56° F

School Project Helps Kodiak Student Reflect on 1964 Quake

Published On: Mar 20 2014 05:14:00 PM AKDT

17-year-old Tracy Gatter of Kodiak travelled to remote villages on the island to document stories from survivors of the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake and learned a valuable lesson. 


Every Wednesday afternoon, Kodiak residents hear a sound that might one day herald disaster: the 2 p.m. testing of the city's tsunami alarm.

Having grown up on the island, 14-year-old Tracy Gatter says she's heard it so often it's become white noise.

"I don't remember the day I first heard that siren," Gatter said.

Gatter's take on the tsunami alarm has changed recently, however, because of a school project.

The assignment was to make a film for the Baranov Museum about how the 1964 earthquake and tsunami affected Kodiak and surrounding villages, like Old Harbor. What began as an assignment to get high-school history credit grew to become a life-changing experience.

"When I was interviewing people, tears -- tears broke out," Gatter said.

The teen interviewed several survivors, people like Paul Kahutak and Florence Pestrikoff, about how that day forever changed their families and their village.

Before this video project Tracy says she knew nothing about what had happened that day.

Some stories, she says, she'll never forget because they're now real to her.

"One mother had to pack up her baby as quick as she could and run up the hill -- she watched people in her village die," Gatter said. "There was so much more emotion, there's so much more to learn; they know what actually happened, history books don't have all the details." 

Gatter says her attention is on the future, but her view is now informed by the past.

"I've lived here my whole life and knowing that's what happened to them and what might happen to me, it makes me really want to talk to my family about what if something like that happened, to be prepared for it," Gatter said.

For Gatter, the soundtrack of life in Kodiak comes through loud and clear. 

"I hear it and sometimes I don't know, I think of it as real, and then I realize its just 2 o'clock on Wednesday," Gatter said. "But someday it might not be 'It's 2 o'clock on Wednesday;' it might be actually a tsunami."